Loose Parts - Encouraging Imaginary Play and How Much do Toys Actually Afford? - How to Grow a Bookworm
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Loose Parts – Encouraging Imaginary Play and How Much do Toys Actually Afford?

A Guest Post by Adam Smart of SmartKidz Play and Learn Ltd


Loose parts Gill


For example a table may afford drawing, writing, painting, however it may also afford standing, climbing, hiding, pushing, jumping.


I heard an interesting point a few months back…. the more you spend on an item the less affordances it has (or the less we allow children to do with it).
I have found a child using a dolls head as a paint brush, a wrap as a frisbee (for the record they fly exceptionally well) and a small tree stump as a cake in a mud kitchen.


Not a Box

We all joke about when we buy children presents they spend more time playing with the wrapping paper and packaging, but it is true! so why is this?
box can be so many things, or has a lot of affordances: a boat, a den, a cave, a car, it offers more affordances then the toy train, the IPad or the doll that was in it and as a result, just as a book can do, this ignites a child’s imagination. There is no boundaries for the child when it comes to a box, parents don’t care if they smash it to pieces, draw all over it, hide in it or jump in it because the cost of the box is nothing and it is “useless” therefore they have freedom with it, they won’t have many adults barking orders at them such as
“don’t throw that”
“Be careful it doesn’t break”
“Don’t ruin it”


Have you ever let your child see if an IPad is a better frisbee than a wrap?


Children will find affordances all the time, climbing up the slide, balancing across a wall, throwing sand and watching it blow away in the breeze and, as adults, we are horrendous at telling them “that’s not how you use that!” or “don’t do that it’s dangerous”


Learn by Doing

However at some point we learnt that wind blows sand away and into eyes, and it hurts if you trip over on bumpy ground when running because we DID IT (and sand does afford throwing bumpy floors do afford running after all!) Children have to learn things by doing, sometimes failing and sometimes finding out the hard way.


Loose parts Einstein


I am not saying we should allow children to throw sand in peoples eyes, or run full pelt down a vertical drop but instead of stopping it with “STOOOOOOP!” ask questions….
“What do you think will happen when you throw that sand in the air?” “if you run down that hill really fast what might happen?”(let the children think about it and work it our for themselves) and then give an alternative “why don’t you do it over there where there are no people.”
“Why don’t you roll down the hill?”

I will give you a challenge!

Find somewhere safe for YOUR child. Go for a walk (your local nature reserve for example), no toys, no reins, no “hold my hand”, no instructions, let the child lead you and tell you which way to go. Keep a note of the things they find, play with, play on and the games they play, hold back from telling them that sticks are dangerous, not to run over bumpy ground in case they fall and don’t pick things up because it’s dirty and instead ask inquisitive questions, what have you got there, where are we now, I wonder what lives in there….
If you feel they are in danger, be calm, discuss with them why THEY think it maybe unsafe or dangerous (usually they come up with things you didn’t even think of!)


Good luck and leave your experiences in the comments below!

  • Nicki Hogan
    Posted at 15:19h, 30 July Reply

    I love the challenge idea! We’ll do it this week and report back 🙂

    • tomrussell
      Posted at 15:46h, 30 July Reply

      Fantastic! We look forward to hearing about it!

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